The area in which I live had its first snowstorm and serious cold of the season during the last few days. As happens every year with winter, I watched myself and my neighbors learn, again, the different functioning that winter requires: extra layers of clothing, boots for trudging through piles of snow, and perhaps most striking to me, slowing down. Whether walking or driving, being safe in winter means being willing to move at a significantly slower pace than usual.
I am a chronically impatient person, so I do not adapt well to winter slowness. My initial response when I hear a forecast of snow or watch the first flakes falling tends to be one of irritation at the myriad inconveniences I know are coming soon. I will have to allow extra time for driving, for walking, for cleaning off my car, for putting on winter garb, for “those people” who seem clueless about how to function in winter and keep getting in my purposeful way. No matter that a snowfall can be lovely as the flakes cascade and create new shapes in the landscape; all I know is that my busy and important life cannot proceed as planned when winter weather arrives.
Yet I have seen myself at times being willing to surrender to that which I cannot control—the weather—and slow my usual pace as needed, and then am surprised by the unfamiliar experience of peace and quiet that winter uniquely brings with its power to put a halt to our busyness all at once. Adults, along with children, play more, celebrate snow days that give permission to skip work and enjoy rest and unstructured time. Traffic noises outside subside because most people are not driving. A hush descends over an entire community, and eventually that hush makes its way into my spirit.
In the Christian liturgical tradition, this is the season of ordinary time, a space when one learns how to integrate spirituality into everyday life. After the intensity of the holidays, ordinary time can seem quite a letdown, especially as the gray of winter days and the challenges of winter weather descend. Yet without such a space of ordinariness, we risk losing the blessings of the holidays because of having no opportunity to reflect on them, to take them deeper into our lives. With such reflection, with the slowing down of ordinary time and snow days, we may begin to see that there is not truly “ordinary” time in which depths are entirely absent, in which love cannot be found in simple and small ways. Extraordinary and ordinary are two sides of a single spiritual coin of meaning.
Within a day the snow had been cleared, allowing all of us to rush about once more. But another bout of snow is forecast, I have remembered how to dress and drive in winter, and the edge is gone from my impatience. Like it or not, I need the slowness winter requires in order to remember that life is more than busyness and getting everything on the list done. Perhaps when the next snowfall comes and the season of ordinary time continues, I will set my important work aside and go out for a walk and let the special peace of winter, of ordinariness, take root in me.